early and awkward

Is Sonia Sotomayor Disabled? [Updated]

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs play against the New York Yankees on June 18, 2011 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.
America’s first disabled Supreme Court justice? Photo: David Banks/Getty Images

The White House is claiming that among President Obama’s many judicial “firsts” — first female judge of Vietnamese descent, first openly gay federal judge, etc. — was his appointment of the first Supreme Court justice to be confirmed with a disability. No idea who they’re talking about, right? Well, Kevin Drum did a little Googling and concluded that this must be a reference to Sonia Sotomayor’s diabetes. Which seems like a stretch.

Now, to be sure, diabetes can be a disability. As far as the Americans With Disabilities Act is concerned, diabetes becomes a disability “when it substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities … such as eating or caring for oneself.” And the Social Security Administration provides disability insurance to people whose diabetes affliction is “severe enough to significantly limit one’s ability to perform basic work activities needed to do most jobs.” But, obviously, Sotomayor doesn’t fall into these groups. As the Los Angeles Times reported last June:

… Sotomayor assured an unusually engrossed group of children that their options were limitless. “You get to do anything you want in life, because I have,” she assured them, adding that she has the job of her dreams. “It’s a really cool job.”

None of this is to say that diabetes isn’t a serious disease, or that it hasn’t had any impact on Sotomayor’s life — just that the White House seems to be trying a little too hard.

Updated: According to amendments to the ADA which were passed in 2008, just having diabetes does, in fact, pretty much automatically qualify you as disabled under the law because diabetes “substantially limits endocrine function.

Is Sonia Sotomayor Disabled?